SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France: Robert Marchand is chasing another world record when he jumps on his bike to compete in the senior hour endurance on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila).
Make that uber-senior — for, while still sprightly, the Frenchman is 105 years old and racing in a category all of his own.
Three years ago he managed to ride 26.927 kilometers (nearly 17 miles) at the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines velodrome outside Paris, a record for someone aged over 100.
He says surpassing that distance inside an hour will be tough but he’s determined to give it a go, even if the modest centenarian insists: “I’m not in such good shape as I was a couple of years back.
“If I were, I’d be a phenomenon, and I’m not.”
Marchand’s current feat may be well shy of Bradley Wiggins’ 54.526 kilometers, yet this veteran among veterans earns no less admiration.
In any case, “I am not here to be champion. I am here to prove that at 105 years old you can still ride a bike,” rasps Marchand, who completed 110 laps in his 2014 effort.
Gerard Mistler, a cycling coach who advises Marchand, remains impressed as ever. “He is very regular in his pedalling. Nothing to excess—he is efficient.”
Marchand, a former national gymnastics champion, boxer and firefighter, puts his enduring fitness down to lifestyle, including a healthy diet and no smoking.
“I’ve done sport all my life, eaten loads of fruit and vegetables, not too much coffee.
“I do between 10 and 20 kilometers a day (cycling), but I don’t train outside. I’m afraid I might catch the flu!”
Marchand’s bike takes pride of place in his modest Parisian studio flat. A widower since 1943, he has no children — yet he does not want for friends or admirers.
“He’s lucky, he’s never been ill,” says fellow amateur cyclist Christian Bouchard.
“He did have an operation for cataracts—he had turned 100. He only wears glasses for reading the paper!”
Marchand, looking very much the athlete in his yellow and mauve gear, admits he fears the day when he cannot cycle or exercise.
Yet to judge by his performances on the bike, that day remains a long way off.